Author Archives: Sarah Regli

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This year I was extremely fortunate to have two lovely University of Waterloo co-op students working with me as student teachers in my grade 11 (functions) and grade 12 (data management) math studies courses (IBDP), one in the fall and one in the winter. I think the best part of having a student teacher to work with, is the ability to constantly debrief each and every lesson in a deep and meaningful way. Some of this debrief is me providing feedback for instructional methods but a significant portion of our debrief is discussing what went well, what didn't and how can we make changes for the next class to improve student learning. Being able to discuss and bounce ideas off of people on a regular basis is so enriching and working with a student teacher provides the ability for constant reflection.

I first came to Cohort 21 with the intention of focusing on building grit in my IBDP chemistry classroom but after day one talking to @rutheichholtz I realized there was a place for my Cohort 21 action plan in the math classroom as well. I'd like to describe the process that myself and my recent University of Waterloo co-op student teacher, Sarah Bunney, undertook this year in the math studies classroom.

Stage 1: Growth mindset in math. In the IBDP program, math studies is often viewed as the DP math course students whose main interests lie outside the field of mathematics would choose to take. This year, our incoming grade 11 group started the year off with a really strong belief and mindset that math just wasn't for them. In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned how I was focusing some class time dedicated to growth mindset in math. This I would like to call stage 1 of my math studies action plan.

Stage 2: Independent inquiry guided lessons. For this, students were given a package of lessons for the unit. The front page of the lessons had titles for each lesson, a place to include the date they completed the lesson, along with the associated homework for that lesson. An example of this is shown below. We chose to do this because we were finding students were missing a lot of classes, often due to sporting events, and when they returned they felt completely overwhelmed and behind in the content bringing students right back to wanting to give up on math. This lesson style did mean students could pick up from where they left off but would be responsible for catching up with the remaining lessons before the time allotted for the unit was completed.

Now, this did have a significant improvement in attitude, behaviour, mindset and motivation in math but also certainly had its flaws. Students had questions, a lot of them, and since students were all at different stages of the lessons, it was difficult for them to help each other. Ms. Bunney and I would spend the entire class circling individuals helping them with their individual problems and before we knew it class would be over. Around March break, Ms. Bunney and I debriefed and felt that while this method was a significant improvement, there were still classes where students' needs were being neglected because we just were not able to help every student individually in the way we had intended. This is when we decided to switch to a group style lesson.

Stage 3: Group inquiry guided lessons. We decided that the best course of action would be to move towards group inquiry-guided lessons. To do this, we separated the class into groups of 2-3, asked students to sit across from one another and go through the lessons as a group. Ms. Bunney and I would each be responsible for helping one-half of the class. We instructed the students that before they could move onto an example on their own, they had to in words describe to their group member what was done in the example listed prior. This really helped us to help them. When they were stuck on an example, I would ask "Could you describe this example to me just as you did to one another?". In almost every scenario, before they could finish describing the example to me, one group member would have an epiphany yelling "I got it! I got it!".

A crucial aspect of Stage 3, especially in the early stages, would be the self-evaluation of group work skills at the end of class. We would ask students to close their eyes and response to the questions with a thumbs up, thumbs down or middle of the road to whether or not the agreed, disagreed with the following statements:

  1. I listened to the ideas of all of my group members today
  2. I contributed positively to my group today
  3. I waited for my group members before moving onto the next question
  4. I asked questions when I did not understand something
  5. I helped my group members who needed help today
  6. My group and I discussed all written examples before moving onto the practice questions
  7. My group and I stayed on task today
  8. I enjoyed working with my group

I whispered each of these statements as though it was the peaceful ending of a yoga class laying in savasana. I believe that this brought a calmness for honest reflection. After looking at their responses we modified the groups for each class accordingly. As of today, we have groups the students have been working in for 2+ weeks and things seem in the best place they have been yet for this course. I think there is still more to come, but the students are building confidence in themselves, each other and us as their teachers which are beautiful things to see built from the ground up.

In summary, moving away from teacher directed teaching in math has really changed my math courses. I am really hoping that our group inquiry-guided lessons are a pathway for building grittier students willing to persevere through challenges in math. I think that our success with the group inquiry style lessons would not have been as successful without the individual inquiry style first, so also it had some issues, it served as a really important stepping stone. In the coming weeks, I'm hoping to incorporate more class discussions around multiple solutions in math.

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This year my guilty pleasure has been listening to podcasts. It has been my method of learning and entertainment this year, largely due to the convenience. After signing up for Cohort21 and then subsequently being hired as a textbook author to write a chapter for online IB chemistry textbook (from Kognity - great IBDP resources!) along with living away from my fiance every Monday-Friday, I just found I was not able to read as much as I would like to. So this year various podcasts took over any minute I was driving, running, working out, walking and basically breathing.

I've been obsessed with Gimlet media's podcasts. So much that I've listened to nearly every recent show and I've had to work backwards to shows from a couple of years ago. Over March break I was listening to season one of their podcast StartUp, the original podcast where Alex Blumberg records himself starting the company Gimlet media from the ground up. It was so interesting listening to this person describe the creation of something that already existed and that I loved! What I found even more fascinating was how many parallels I was able to draw from the experiences of Alex and his coworkers to that of being a teacher, especially a teacher at an independent school. I would never have thought that I would have resonated so strongly as an educator with someone who was trying to start their own business.

There was one episode in particular that I found really interesting and that gave me an idea for my action plan. This episode was called "Fake It Till You Make It". In this episode, Google Ventures Design visits the New York-based company to help the founders figure out whether they should invest in making a podcasting app for their podcasting content. They describe to the founders Alex and Matt that they might spend years making an app only to have it be surprisingly disappointing. Instead, they go through a process called a design sprint. In this design sprint, they design a version of their idea, release it to the public, get feedback and then refine their idea. They begin their design sprint by using the Crazy Eights exercise to brainstorm what their app should look like. They then suggest to Alex and Matt to design a fake app. One that has the skeleton of an app but not any of the functionalities that are time-consuming.

This is where I stopped in my tracks (I was on a long run outside). I thought, there is something here that I think I can use with my grade 12 chemistry students. At the time I was marking my grade 12 chemistry student's internal assessment. This is an individual investigation that the students must complete as a part of their IB Chemistry course in the IB Diploma. While marking these I was shocked at how much difficulty students had organizing their thoughts, presenting data in tables and discussing quantitative information. I thought to myself, what if I made a fake internal assessment. One that had no real substance, but had the layout and organization of what one should look like.

The following is going to walk you through how I started and what it looks like today. First, the IB criteria for the internal assessment is incredibly vague. Two summers ago, I sat down, read through the criteria a million times and then came up with my own criteria and rubrics to assess students. This criteria, I have called my internal assessment template #1. I was really proud of this criteria because I thought it really clarified things for students about what they needed to complete and while it certainly helped, this year I discovered, I still had work to do. I think that the rubrics designed assisted my marking and helped those students who took it upon themselves to go through details of the rubric but I think I could design something that would help students much more.

 

To build grittier students ready to tackle a challenge, I really wanted them to look at this investigation as a way to structure scientific information similar to an actual research report or a scientific paper. One that ended the report with questions about where to go next. What I did was first pull out all of the small details that were necessary from my criteria. I called this my internal assessment template #2.

Now to help guide students through the process, I included a significant portion of the necessary information but in a template similar to what would be expected for the internal assessment from students. I called this my internal assessment template #3. This one would represent my fake it til you make it. Now I realize that these students are in grade 12 and should be able to put a lot of this together on their own, but I saw a lot of my students struggle with the organization of their thoughts this year. Particularly when it came down to organizing their data, calculations, thoughts, explanations, etc. I thought to myself, wouldn't it be better for them to have an option of a method to organize their thoughts to model future investigations off of?

In summary - the fake it till you make it approach can be used as a tool to convey success criteria for an assessment, while also emulating the structure and organization of the assessment itself. If you have any feedback or suggestions I will enable editing in my template #3 Google doc.

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Alright, so full disclosure, these past few months have not been great ones for me. The combination of some not-so-great personal things along with taking responsibility for too many great things left me feeling overwhelmed and really thinking that I bit off more than I can chew. Reading @lmiller's blog and the quote from Seth Godin she references, “there’s a queue of urgent things, all justifiable, all requiring you and you alone to handle them. And so you do, pushing off the important in favor of the urgent” I feel more comfortable acknowledging my challenges. I tried to spend my Easter weekend tackling the urgent in order to favour the important - my Cohort21 action plan.

In my mind, I have had two pathways for my feelings and thoughts about my Cohort21 action plan and experience:

1) I had all these visions for an action plan, I barely reached any of them, therefore I was an awful candidate for my school to send to Cohort21 and I have failed as a representative.

2) Cohort21 allowed me to acknowledge and identify an area of growth for my classroom that extends to the entire school community, the school's mission and my own teaching philosophy. It has served as the driving force behind every new thing I tried this year and every one of my interactions with students.

I have to admit I toggled between these two quite often over the past month or so. I had to remind myself that I have already done great things in and out of the classroom with students that were motivated by creating a culture of grit that I have been meeting goals towards my action plan, even if these weren't things explicitly identified.

My action plan is centred around creating a culture of grit in students. When I reflect on my feelings towards #1 above, I need to remind myself that I need to be gritty first before I can expect it from students. I am truly passionate about building a grittier student body who can build skills and success through persevering through challenges, even if the outcome is not exactly as originally expected. Culminating my end of the beginning for my action plan is my current challenge. By persevering through this challenge I will build skills to help students persevere through their own challenges in my classroom and school community. This challenge will help me set realistic goals for meeting some of the larger action plan items in the future.

Action plan item #1:

"How might we create a culture of grit in the chemistry and math classroom?" - first by modelling grit, passion and perseverance in the classroom ourselves as teachers.

My action plan is about creating a culture of grit, in my classroom, the students I teach and the overall school community. While I still feel a little bit fuzzy on how to tackle this, I did come up with some small ideas when we were using the design process during our second F2F session.

One of the small ideas that I wanted to mention in this post was about using posters to try to not only motivate, but be a reminder of the lens through which we can view our everyday lives. I started this task by performing a good old Google search. I searched "fostering grit in the classroom" and came across a whole bunch of resources by Sylvia Duckworth. I found this a little bit amusing in that my action plan was inspired by reading "Grit" by Angela Duckworth. What are the odds of that, two different Duckworth individuals studying Grit! After visiting Sylvia's website I found out that she is a sketchnoter who is passionate about helping educators build grit and a growth mindset in themselves and their students. Perfect right? I immediately created a folder in my Google drive titled "Grit/ Growth Mindset" where I started to save resources I could reference in the future, primarily directed from her website.

The second thing I did was look at my classroom to see where was a good location to put these posters. The posters are all standard paper size. I have a couple of bulletin boards that need some love, but they are in locations in my classroom that don't really promote observation. (Shoved in a corner between lab equipment shelves and windows). I thought that the best place would be near the door where students are always passing by. Since there is the thermostat, fire alarm and fire safety image already there I decided to arrange it in a collage as shown below. (I realize it is hard to visualize the posters here and doesn't necessarily look amazing).

After placing these posters students began to comment. Some in a sarcastic manner "Really, can I do hard things?" and some in an inquisitive manner "interesting posters", "I've never really considered that", "I guess I don't normally think about the work people put into things when I look at their successes". Either way, it generated conversations that hadn't existed in my student body before.

My favourite posters of these are the "iceberg effects", "growth mindset versus fixed mindset" and the "you can do hard things" poster that I have included throughout this blog.
My favourite part of the iceberg effect is that it is not only a reminder to students but also to myself. It is easy to see the successes of others and compare yourself to them. It is easy to focus on my not-so-great lessons, stressful student interactions and messy desk when I hear about the great lessons, amazing student interactions and organization of other teachers who seem to just have it all figured out. What I need to remember is that there is a lot of hard work, dedication, sacrifice and persistence working behind the scenes of success. We often do not witness each other's failures but dwell on our own. I am slowly realizing that although my "concrete" action plan is to work on the grit of our student body at SJK, it is helping me build more grit within myself.

 

Growth Mindset in Math - Post Assessment Discussions

Last week, my grade 11 math studies students wrote a test. This test was on problem-solving and functions. While students were reviewing for the test, things seemed to be running pretty smoothly. They had small hiccups here and there, but ultimately things were looking good. My brain was thinking, "YES! This test is going to be GREAT!". Right? Wrong! The questions I thought were presents wrapped in a bow for students were left blank, students solved for x when there was no to solve for. BEDMAS was completely just out of the question!

This was the second test we have had so far. The first test, also did not go so well. After that test I really framed my class discussion as, "Look everyone, we really have to pull up our socks here. There is no other math course in the diploma programme for you to turn to. This is it. It is time to start working". Maybe this was a little too threatening for a group of students who have just started in the diploma programme, but it did seem to turn student behaviour and work ethic around at that time.

But this test was different. I watched with my own eyeballs, the students study for this test. This is a group of students that I can assure you have done very little studying for math on their own time in the past. But I saw them after school and during their study halls studying for their math test. I know that my post-test discussion would have to be very different. I decided I need to focus my post-test discussion with this group around "Growth Mindset in Math".

I started class by playing the following video Growth Mindset in Math. I then asked the class to discuss with each other why I would select a video like that to start the class. After a minute or so I asked students to share. The first thoughts shared were "because we all failed the test". The class all chuckled and I showed no response to this. And I just kept asking, "Why else?". The responses started to shape into, "because we aren't good at math", "we've built up large barriers for ourselves learning math", "we don't give ourselves a chance to be good at math", "we are setting low expectations and low goals for ourselves in math". As the conversation progressed, students were becoming more and more invested and engaged in the discussion.

bryant-growth-mindset-ccs-istockphotoWe then together sat as a class and discussed the importance of our mindset in our overall success. I let them know that I truly believed that each person in the class is capable of being good at math, but they had to start by being okay with themselves for making mistakes and be comfortable with learning from their mistakes. I let the class know I was proud of their efforts that they put into their studying and that I knew those efforts would pay off long-term, even if this test didn't quite show that.

I think this put a lot of the student's minds at ease. My goal was to keep the students motivated, despite lower than expected results. I followed this up by having the students work in pairs to answer one of the questions that no one was able to answer on the test. The students we able to fully complete this question with minimal guidance. I think this really helped to rebuild confidence within this group of students.

I think this process overall, helped me see the role that teachers play in maintaining motivation and morale among students. We'll just have to wait and see how it upholds for our next assessment.

 

During the second F2F session for Cohort 21 I came in with the idea that my action plan would revolve somewhere around the idea of Creating a Culture of Grit. 

By using the design process to hone in deeper into my action plan, I felt that the process turned out to be more cyclical than I had expected. I started off with the idea that I wanted to build grit in the entire community at my school this year. After reflecting about some of my problems and challenges I started to break down these goals into much smaller, seemingly unrelated goals such as "supporting student balance between content heavy courses and extracurriculars" and "providing students with hope and motivation". While discussing it with my partner Dan, I realized that these smaller goals that I thought were unrelated and steering me away from grit, really fall under the umbrella of building grit.

latherrinse-repeatWhile considering the user of my objective I considered a student of mine, let's call him Bologna (not his real name) . Bologna is a mid-high range user that strives to achieve at a high level but has a lot on his plate and is consistently disappointed in himself and his results. This is causing him to be very results-driven, looking for quick answers instead of critically evaluating course content. During the design process at F2F #2 at TYS, I came up with a list of things that I thought might help Bologna. Things such as "help him feel interested", "providing more encouragement", "discussing time management skills", "inspiring curiosity", and "providing a sense of purpose in his work". As I started making this list, I sat back and thought, "Wait a second, all of these things would be helpful to the low and high-end users as well!" I thought that this process was really interesting because initially when I consider my low and high-end users as individuals, it is difficult for me to identify them having similar needs right off the bat. Sectioning it into three user areas and coming up with ways to address those needs, really allowed me to identify the fact that they do in fact have a number of similar needs.

Since the F2F at TYS I have started to incorporate more "student brainstorming" in my classes - through think-pair-shares, whiteboard brainstorming or class discussions based on concepts, experiments or the meanings behind terminology. This has started to create a culture of "making mistakes" in the classroom, ideally to move away from the "results-driven" mindset and more towards a growth mindset.

I have titled this post lather-rinse-repeat because for my action plan, it all starts at the idea of grit. Followed by breaking this down further, to some issues I am having specifically in my classroom. I think of a small solution to help a range of users, but ultimately I again return to grit, with the overarching goal of how I can slowly start to develop gritter lifelong learners across all my students.

Image from: https://makeameme.org/meme/latherrinse-repeat

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grit-the-power-of-passion-and-perseverance_achieve-your-goals_1540x860-800x450This summer, I read my first non-fiction book (other than academic textbooks) and the impact it had on my life was greater than I ever could have imagined. This book was "Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance" by Angela Duckworth.

 

The point that I like that Angela honed in on, was that talent alone can only take you so far. Following through in your areas of passion and persevering through challenges leads to purpose and success in life. In one part of her book, she describes a psychology study performed on rats. In this study, the rats that faced challenging tasks when they were young were able to complete unrelated challenging tasks when they were older. However, the rats that faced only simple, easy tasks why they were young gave up and were unable to complete the unrelated challenging tasks when they were older.

This is when it hit me - This is why I teach high school chemistry!

I know that not every single student that I teach is going to be a chemist, or discuss hydrogen bonding at the dinner table (although the thought of this brings a tear to my eye). BUT if I can support the student persevering through a number of scientific challenges (be it conceptual, investigative, inquiry-based, mathematical, modeling, etc.) and they can follow through with this challenges, then I am setting these students up with being able to complete unrelated, challenging tasks in their adult life. Let's face it, the world is a complicated place, and as I get older it somehow seems to become more complicated. But with a toolkit ready to tackle difficult tasks it all seems a little bit more manageable.

This mindset gave me a new sense of purpose this year. My overarching goal this year is to allow students to see that they can do hard things. When I am struggling with time management or a difficult lesson I need to also remember that I can do hard things. We are all capable of more than we think, we just need to push, follow through and persevere.

(Note - my colleague Lesa has really instilled the "you can do hard things" quote into my head)

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c21_logo_mediumWelcome to Cohort 21. This is the first post on your new blog. This journal is an integral part of your Cohort 21 experience. Here you will reflect, share and collaborate as you move through the C21 learning cycle towards your action plan.

Cohort 21 is a unique professional development opportunity open to CIS Ontario teachers and school leaders who are seeking to explore  what it means to a teacher in the 21st century.